Why do translation errors happen?

A friend of mine did ask me how someone might gloriously translate “area monitored by CCTV” into German as “Fern schuberwachte” as seen on the signboard in the image (we took the photograph together some years ago btw). If you might wonder: “schuberwachte” isn’t a thing, neither is it a German word. It is not even close to something correct like “videoüberwachter Berich” oder “Platz wird Videoüberwacht”.

Obviously, this particular master of translation should have double-checked with a native German speaker. [1]

Some other, more subtle reasons for translation mistakes might include:

  • not fully understanding the grammatical differences between the languages [1]

  • not getting the intent behind the original expression and/or not paying attention to the style or tone of the text, which might lead to a translation that is technically correct still missing the point [1]

  • ignoring the context of the time and place in which the source text has been written as well as the evolution the language has been subject to since then [1][2]

  • a lack of domain knowledge, thus not understanding technical terms or even the entire subject of the text

  • ignoring “untranslatable” words and sayings which often need to be paraphrased to convey the original message [1][2]

  • mindlessly engaging in word-to-word or machine translation [2]

You might wanna avoid those on your next translation job.

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[1] https://www.business2community.com/brandviews/upwork/10-common-translation-mistakes-avoid-02046277, as of 2020-03-30
[2] https://www.aceproof.com/translation-quality/common-translation-mistakes-meaning/, as of 2020-03-30